A University of Alberta study that refutes the idea that the obesity pandemic is caused by junk food advertising shows that stressful childhood settings are a precursor to obesity later in life.
The journal Behavioral Sciences reported the study’s findings.
It has long been understood that stress affects hunger, according to Jim Saffield, a consumer psychology researcher at the Alberta School of Business who co-authored the study with Qi Guo.
But what we didn’t know, says Swaffield, “was that stressful experiences in early childhood seem to calibrate the brain to crave high-energy meals throughout one’s lifespan. This study contributes to the understanding of why obesity rates are higher among lower socioeconomic status individuals who experience chronic stress.
311 participants (133 men and 178 women) were asked to assess how appealing each food item is after being given random photographs of foods from the six main dietary categories of vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, meat/poultry, and sweets.
Following that, the participants were questioned about their socioeconomic backgrounds as young children and their present levels of stress.
They found that individuals who had grown up in difficult socioeconomic circumstances were highly driven by food and tended to primarily crave meals that were high in energy, whereas adults who had grown up in stable socioeconomic circumstances were more inclined to eat just when they were truly hungry.
The study by Swaffield and Gou comes amid calls to outlaw unhealthy food advertising. Even though it seems logical to ban junk food advertisements, Swaffiled points out that there are practical implications for doing so: “If we mistakenly identify the cause of obesity, we will fail to develop a strategy to remedy this problem, and the number of people who live with these conditions will continue to rise.”